John's O&M Lesson 1: Non-Visual Digital Maps for Elementary Student

When creating orientation and mobility lessons, O&Ms should carefully consider the goal(s) of each lesson and the current lesson. As an O&M, my mission is to teach my students to become "fearless, independent travelers in new environments". This means that I should actively teach critical concepts that enable the student to be independent rather than focusing on teaching specific routes. Foundational orientation concepts include teaching the student how to develop a strong mental map and problem-solving skills. With this in mind, let's dive into how to create progressive ORIENTATION lessons - versus teaching specific routes - using the new non-visual digital map software. We will first take a look on what to include in customized maps, concepts to teach, and how these lessons align with O&M IEP goals.  

In this series, we will first follow one student through several progressive lessons and then look at a several scenarios using a variety of students, their goals, and different types of environments.

Note: These map lessons and concepts can be taught remotely - perfect for social distancing during COVID-19!

Maps can and should be used to teach a number of ORIENTATION-related skills. While maps can be used to teach a specific route, there are also numerous concepts that can be taught through maps that will enable your student to be a "fearless independent traveler in new environments". These orientation concepts can be integrated into O&M lessons and daily routines. In this series, we will focus on expanding these foundational concepts using non-visual digital maps. 

Student Goals/John's Scenario

First, carefully consider your student's abilities and current O&M-related skills, the student's IEP goals and of course, the location - such as a tudent's neighborhood or community - that can be used to teach these skills. Since every student is unique and locations vary, this series will include a variety of scenarios as examples. Let's start with John's scenario. 

John is a 4th grade student who lives in a small town. He is a "fearless independent traveler" in his school and home, and is confortable traveling inside several local businesses. He has been introduced to basic street crossings with age-appropriate supervision. His previous community lessons have been focused on specific goals - such as learning to cross a street with a stop sign or a traffic light; he is also comfortable navigating in and shopping in several local stores with age-appropriate independence. These lessons have been done basically in isolation, meaning that he has learned individual businesses, streets and intersections  but has not tied these individual locations into the big picture of his town. His current orientation goals include learning more about businesses in his community, where these businesses are located in relationship to each other, along with traveling to these local destinations. He also has a goal about understanding where his town is in relationship to other towns/cities in his state and the main roads between these cities. John has used tactile maps during previous O&M lessons; he has not been introduced to non-visual digital maps. John has basic tech skills and uses a screen reader to access his technology.

Prior to Introducing Non-Visual Digital Maps

Before introducing an elementary student to non-visual digital maps, complete the physical activities in the post, Activities that Build Digital Map Skills. These fun, simple activities teach the basic concepts that are integral parts of the non-visual digital maps. Through these physical activities, your student will understand the following things about the non-visual digital maps:

  1. You are always located in the center of the circle.
  2. You always face 12:00, which is North.
  3. You always determine the spatial relationship of your POIs from your location.
  4. You always relate the distance of each POI from your location - near, halfway, far away 
  5. The closer the Point of Intersest (POI), the higher the tone; the farther the POI, the lower the tone.

Progressive Lessons

There are numerous goals that can be taught with non-visual digital maps. Depending on your student's abilities, these lessons can be taught individually or combined. The overall goal is to learn how to use non-visual digital maps and how to develop a mental map of his town, using a variety of orientation-related concepts. Once the student becomes familiar with the software and masters the basic concepts, he will be able to apply these tech and O&M skills to other non-visual digital maps. Especially with young students, it is important to start with a basic map and then expand the map as the student's skills progress.

Lesson 1: Learn Software Commands

The main goal of this lesson is to learn about non-visual digital maps using the free SAS Graphics Accelerator software and a customized simple, downtown map of John's town, Pittsboro. This includes the commands to navigate through the map and how to glean important information from the map while learning about a few select Points of Interest (POIs) and intersections in downtown Pittsboro.

John lives two blocks east of the Circle and half a block north. The Pittsboro Downtown Basic map includes 19 points - a combination of street intersections of downtown over to John's house and approximately one POI along the each street. (Note: For confidentiality, John is a fictious person and does not actually live in the house marked on the map.)

Note: If needed, a map with fewer points can be used. I can quickly copy this map, rename and save it, then delete points or add points, as desired. I do not have to recreate the map from scratch. These maps are customized! If John did not live near the Circle, I would only included street intersections around the Circle and would not have included the street intersections east of the Circle near John's house.

The map used in this lesson should be downloaded as an example. Feel free to use this map with your students; however, it is always best to create a similar map of your student's community!

Pittsboro Downtown Basic Map


Explore the Map

  • Once you have downloaded the Pittsboro Downtown Basic Map, ask the student to explore the map using Page Up/Page Down (Windows computer) or Fn Up/Fn Down keys (Mac) to move your virtual cane. Listen carefully to the Label (name of the point), Bearing (where the point is located - default is clock direction) and the Distance (yards). Remember: The center of the circle - which represents where you are standing - is automatically generated as the center of the points on your customized map.You are always standing in the center of the "lens" (non-visual digital map circle) facing north and you can sweep your cane in a full circle around you. Your cane will find points - which are announced along with the bearing and distance from you.
  • Sweep your virtual cane to John's house. (Good O&M teaching skill is to start with a point that your student is familiar with. If your student is familiar with and has physically traveled on the sidewalks around the Historic Courthouse - the center of downtown Pittsboro, you could opt to move to the Historic Courthouse.) Once your virtual cane is on John's House, press Enter to jump to John's House. Now, John's House is the center of the map and location and distance is from the perspective of John's House. Note: The map now shows 16 of 19 points. Three points are outside the Lens (the map circle). 
  • Now explore the map from John's House using Page Up/Page Down or Fn Up/Fn Down keys to move your virtual cane. Find S&T's Soda Shoppe. What street is it on? Where is it located from John's House? How far is it?
    • The map tells you that the Soda Shoppe is 443 yards from John's House. Is that close or far compared to other points in this map? Hint: Use the pitch! The higher the pitch the closer the point is to the center of the map (John's House). The lower the pitch, the farther away.
    • If you want to eliminate the announcements and only hear the pitch, press "C" until you hear "off". Now sweep your virtual cane and you can focus listening for high and low sounds - indicating if your virtual cane has found a point close or far away. Press "C" to go back to "Verbose" meaning everything is announced or "Terse" which does not announce the words "label", "bearing" or "distance".
  • Forgot where you are? Use the "/" (forward slash key) to announce your current location).
  • Name at least one thing that you did not know about downtown Pittsboro that the map told you.
  • Now find the Historic Courthouse, which is in the middle of the Circle and jump to the Circle. Note: The Circle is a "round about' with the Historic Circle in the middle. Now the Center of the map and the perspective is from the Historic Courthouse. Note: All 19 points are now within the map boundaries. John's House is currently outside the map's lens. Do you remember which direction John's House is from the Historic Courthouse? If not, zoom out  with "-" (minus key) and find it!
  • The points are fairly close together; to spread the points out, press the "+" (plus key). Now only 14 points are within the map boundaries and the points are spread farther apart, making it easier to learn the spatial relationships between various points. (This zoom feature is beneficial with complex maps may have points on top of each other.)
  • What restaurant is on Hillsboro Street? Can you find another restaurant on Hillsboro Street?
  • Name a point on the bottom section of the map.
  • Name a point that is close to the Historic Courthouse. What is far from the Historic Courthouse?
  • Name a street that runs east and west (right/left). Name a street that runs north and south (up/down).

Your questions should reflect your student's abilities - the questions above are common examples when introducing a non-visual digital map.

Note: Customize your questions for your student - if he has had O&M lessons in downtown Pittsboro, tie those lessons in by talking about which intersection has a stop light or where there is a unique physical feature such as the sidewalk with steps close to the Soda Shoppe.


Additional Non-Visual Digital Map Commands

Ready for more? Below are the commands used with SAS Graphics Accelerator maps:

  • Sweep virtual cane: Page Up or Page Down (Windows computer) or Fn Key + Up Arrow or Fn Key + Down Arrow (Mac)
  • Zoom in: +
  • Zoom out: -
  • Reset location and Zoom to default: 0 (zero)
  • Cycle through direction settings: I (clock, cardinal, bearing)
  • Cycle through sound settings: S
  • Cycle through Speech Settings: C (terse, verbose, label off)
  • Jump to dialogue: J (brings up menu window)
  • Repeat current focus: Spacebar
  • Move location to focused Point: Enter
  • Change the Distance Unit: U (metric or imperial system)
  • Help menu: H
  • Announce your current location (center of map) and map details: / (forward slash)


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